About 500 servicemen and women from the Canadian Armed Forces are now on the ground in Prince Albert getting the basic training they need to fight wildfires in northern Saskatchewan.
Premier Brad Wall says he made the call to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday and a reconnaissance team was deployed to Prince Albert by Sunday. So don’t be surprised if you see light armoured army vehicles on Saskatchewan highways.
Brigadier General Wayne Eyre is the commander for the joint task force west and the commander of 3rd Canadian Division, which he calls the ‘army of the west.’ He says the First Battalion Princess Patricias based in Edmonton will be deployed to the La Ronge area.
“Our primary job, our primary mission is to protect Canadians at home and that’s why we’re here,” he said.
He says the troops are going through a quick training course with experts and professional firefighters in Prince Albert but they should be ready to deploy on the ground to fight fires within 24 to 36 hours. He says the servicemen and women will be working with provincial firefighters to patrol along the fire line, put out hot spots and support logistics.
When asked why it took so long to call in the army, Wall said the decision was based on what the firefighting experts and professionals were dealing with on the ground.
“I think as it became obvious that there wasn’t perhaps any relief coming from the weather forecasts, we just wanted to make sure there were ground forces,” he said.
Finding the man power to fight the fires became a concern this week because firefighters needed rest and they didn’t have enough people to fill in.
“We need to look around and find a complement of women and men who can be trained fairly rapidly and deployed on the front lines and the Canadian Forces were at the top of the list and that’s why we made the call,” Wall said.
Within the first week the province had already surpassed the annual budget for fighting forest fires, but Wall says the budget is far from the primary concern now.
“Whenever there is an event like this the budget is not the thing to look at because the budget becomes whatever it takes for the appropriate response, whatever it takes to protect people first then property, buildings, value assets as they call them. And we’ll find those dollars,” he said.
Wall said Saskatchewan is in an enviable position compared to most other provinces in terms of finances. He said the first priority is to protect people and homes and the government will worry about finances after the fires are out.
— Samantha Maciag (@sammaciag) July 7, 2015